Popular former superutility player Wockenfuss, 73, dies

August 22nd, 2022

DETROIT -- John Wockenfuss, who spent a dozen years as a valuable catcher, first baseman and outfielder with the Tigers and Phillies, passed away last Friday. He was 73.

Wockenfuss was a superutility player well before roster management made it popular. Originally drafted as an outfielder out of high school by the Washington Senators in the 42nd round of the 1967 MLB Draft, Wockenfuss eventually added catcher and corner infielder to his duties in a seven-year Minor League journey across three different organization before he made it with the Tigers as a backup catcher in '74.

Wockenfuss spent parts of 10 years with Detroit, where his unorthodox right-handed batting stance -- which began with his back turned almost toward the mound -- and workmanlike attitude made him a popular figure. He eventually carved out regular playing time and a long-term contract, batting .274 with 16 home runs and 65 RBIs over 126 games in 1980.

The Tigers traded Wockenfuss to the Phillies at the end of Spring Training in 1984, along with outfielder Glenn Wilson, for Willie Hernandez, who went on to win AL Cy Young and MVP honors as the closer for Detroit’s World Series championship team that year. Wockenfuss, who grew up in Delaware and made it his lifelong home, played two seasons in Philadelphia and another season in the Florida State League before retiring to get into coaching.

Wockenfuss managed parts of four seasons in the Tigers' farm system, including two years at Triple-A Toledo. He not only managed the Mud Hens to a win over the Tigers in their then-annual exhibition game in 1989, the 40-year-old pitched five scoreless innings against his old club to earn the victory.

Wockenfuss was involved in youth baseball back in Delaware as a coach and a businessman, opening a baseball and softball academy. Among the players he coached was former Rays All-Star and current Marlins infielder Joey Wendle.

Wockenfuss passed away in Wilmington, Del., surrounded by family, according to his obituary.